I doubt it’s going to take all that long for people to hit the level cap and start chasing down the gear that will make their characters more powerful. Some will concentrate on their trade skills, some will look for every Datacron while others will run Flashpoints to deck out their character. In any case, and possibly in all three, players are looking to get their toons ready to take on all comers in endgame Warzones or Operations.
Whether you view gear as a means to an end or as a reward in itself will dictate how you mull over this topic, but what’s beyond dispute is that gear can provide a level of prestige when people see you wearing it. It probably doesn’t matter if you’ve earned it through being a great raider, an absolute monster in PvP, or are just bizarrely fortunate (or a gold farmer). What matters is that gear, in and of itself, is valuable and can have a significant impact on how others view you.
In most MMORPG’s (and Star Wars is following suit), colours will generally dictate how powerful something is, or sometimes how scarce. The lowest quality stuff should be easiest to get, while the highest quality slots should take the most effort. In practice, the system has generally taken a sliding-scale approach not too dissimilar to this:
Junk: This generally does nothing other than net you some currency at a vendor, but will do if you have literally nothing else.
Common: Baseline quality, typically replaced by anything with a magical property as soon as it comes along.
Uncommon: This is the start of decent gear, as uncommon items will usually boost random statistics that might be good.
Rare: These items will boost statistics in a similar fashion to uncommon items, but typically in a less random fashion.
Epic: This is what everyone is aiming at. These items are powerful, specific to a specialization and often have unique “procs”.
For the most part, none of this information is new to players of an MMORPG. Truth be told, most level-based games will have some form of item ladder that makes your character more powerful. The problem starts to come in with the distribution of these items and what they represent to the playerbase. World of Warcraft veterans often yearn for the time when “epic meant epic”, essentially bemoaning the fact that the erstwhile hero you saw in a full set of epic gear no longer has the same prestige because epic gear is now so easy to get.
The problem is that the system doesn’t really imply anything about scarcity; merely power. Said problem is horribly compounded if items of all types become indistinguishable from each other, accompanied by an unambiguous design philosophy. If uncommon, rare and epic items all provide an aimed boost to primary and secondary statistics, there’s nothing to differentiate them other than their level.
This does a few negative things.
1) Choice is relegated to “what’s the highest level?”
2) Prestige items are too easily disposed of.
3) Gear level starts to become synonymous with skill level.
4) “Prime” statistics become too easy to identify.
In short, I reckon that the gearing game is currently mired in an endless churn that is wrecking what could be a far more enjoyable meta-game. The goal is to design a gear philosophy that achieves what I like to think of as a holy trinity; representative of difficulty/scarcity, continuously enjoyable as gaming in itself and future-proofed against the expansion model of the typical MMORPG. It’s my belief that BioWare has got some exceptionally gifted and imaginative developers working on the game, so I’d really like them to take up this challenge.
With the scene set (at great length… That’s my gig, I’m afraid), here’s how I would do it.
First of all, I’d clearly identify what each level of gear can grant players and then define the viable sources for each. This should be tied into the difficulty involved in using each source, as well as aiming the gear appropriately. So, let’s start with that:
Junk: I’d have trash as the default drop from mob-killing throughout the game, much as it is now. It’ll do if you’re otherwise naked, but you should want to avoid walking around in it for too long.
Common: The best source for common items should be as quest rewards, and this should remain the case throughout the levelling curve including expansions. Mobs may well drop common items, but they will never have magical properties or statistic boosts.
Uncommon: Uncommon items should be pretty rare to drop from mobs, should be VERY rare quest rewards (group or Flashpoint quests) and be the common reward throughout Flashpoints. They will only ever provide a randomized boost to primary statistics when dropping from mobs, and a preset boost to aimed primary statistics during Flashpoints. They should never boost secondary statistics.
Rare: Rare items should only very occasionally fall from Flashpoint bosses or mobs, but are the expected drop from Operation bosses of all tiers. Secondary statistics should start making their way onto these items, but such bonuses should always come at the cost of primary statistics so that there remains a choice between rare and uncommon items. Lastly, the statistics on them should never really be randomized, keeping them strong for the role in which they were intended.
Epic: When it comes down to it, an epic item should be very powerful for the purpose which it was intended, but not powerful otherwise. For example, a tank-orientated epic weapon that prioritizes damage should have no equal, but a defensively minded tank might still prefer a rare or uncommon item that trumps that epic for defence. I would have them drop at a painfully small percentage from mobs or Flashpoint bosses, a small percentage from Operation bosses (or bags) and a slightly higher chance from penultimate/end bosses.
All in all, that’s how I would approach the gearing cycle in general. Obviously there will be a multitude of things I didn’t consider (that’s why I post this rubbish, so people can comment :P), but the idea is to make the process of gearing your character more interesting and fun than simply looking for the item that’s higher level or a better colour. It’s hoped that this would allow players to hold onto their coveted items for longer, have a mix of colours in their gear that’s chosen for function, and reduces the need of the playerbase to relegate each other to mindless numbers or colour coding.
What do you peeps think?